Citizens United Must Disclose Major Donors, District Court Judge Rules

A U.S. District Court judge has ruled that Citizens United, a nonprofit that advocates for reduced government regulation, must disclose information to New York's attorney general about donors of at least $5,000 if it wants to fundraise in the state, Bloomberg reports.

Judge Sidney Stein rejected the nonprofit's argument that its First Amendment rights were being infringed and that donors "reasonably fear public backlash, financial harm, and worse" if their support of the group were revealed. According to the Associated Press, the policy outlined by New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman represents "a generic disclosure policy, one that the First Amendment has long considered acceptable." That policy requires every charitable organization to reveal its major donors before soliciting funds in the state.

Stein rejected what he described as Citizens United's overstating of the dangers of donor disclosure, including its claim that donors could face public backlash, financial harm, or worse. "Plaintiffs provide no factual background or support for their conclusory assertions," Stein wrote, pointing out that the Supreme Court six years ago noted that the group had been disclosing the names of its donors for years and had never identified an instance of harassment or retaliation against a donor.

In an email to Bloomberg, Michael Boos, the attorney representing Citizens United, challenged the judge’s contention that the claims lacked factual detail and said the organization may appeal.

In a statement, Schneiderman called the ruling a "victory for common sense oversight of New York’s vast nonprofit sector."